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Captain Sams Inlet, 2016 ( Photo (c) Mary Ellen Fraser)

The northeastern tip of North Beach, opposite Kiawah's Beachwalker Park, is usually a reliable spot for dolphin watching and for enjoying our lively populations of shorebirds. But it hasn't always been so, for this is a constantly shifting coastal geography shaped and re-shaped by wind and water at the confluence of the Atlantic Ocean and the Kiawah River. At many points in its history, there was no beach at all here.

Seabrook Island in 1949, pre-development. The inlet is at the far right, considerably to the north of its present location.

Captain Sams Inlet, dividing Seabrook and Kiawah islands, is a highly visible example of how our beaches and dunes are continually on the move, in some years migrating more than 300 feet. The inlet has shifted position scores of times in the past 150 years, at one point migrating as far to the southwest as present-day Boardwalk #1, with no walkable, dry-sand beach to the northeast as erosion carried sand away to the south.

Seabrook's original Beach Club threatened by beach erosion after Hurricane David. (courtesy SIPOA/Coastal Science & Engineering)

During Seabrook's early days of development as a planned coastal community, seawalls and stone revetments were only partially successful in preserving the beachfront, and most of those structures were destroyed during Hurricane David in 1979 - severely enough that construction on the original Beach Club had to be halted and the only usable beach was reduced to about two-thousand feet south of Boardwalk #1.

Relocation work at the inlet in 2015. (courtesy SIPOA)

The damage was severe enough to spur SIPOA, and the the towns of Seabrook and Kiawah islands, to adopt a major relocation of Captain Sams Inlet in 1983 as a way to slow erosion which had been taking sand away from Seabrook's shoreline. It was the first of three such relocations, with two more following in 1996 and in 2015, involving cutting a new inlet entry to the northeast and blocking the old one to the southwest.

The result since the first relocation has been the preservation of as much as fifty acres of additional beach and marsh on Seabrook, providing crucial habitat for shorebirds like the endangered piping plover and building up protective dunes and water-absorbing marshland against storm surges. The inlet's position and ecology is monitored on an annual basis. The next time you visit Captain Sams Inlet, remember that you're, very literally, walking on shifting sands.

(P.S. Our fall lineup of member-exclusive SINHG Trips are now up on the website. Choose your trips and sign up before July 23rd!)

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